Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Prestige; Marie Antoinette; Little Children: What is an independent movie?

This weekend we saw three major releases in the DC area that make one wonder how the industry defines "independent film".

"The Prestige" is a variation of the story for "The Illusionist" earlier this year (the new company the Yari Group, with Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti). Michael Caine, as Cutter, is wonderful as the omniscient observer who explains that a magic trick comprises "The Pledge" "The Turn" and "The Prestige" with the latter being the payoff for the enormous plot of Christopher Nolan's latest film. Here he tells the story of the rivalry of the two magicians (played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) with David Bowie as the gayish turn-of-the-century mad scientist with real majic worthy of Clive Barker's Imajica, and some plot tricks that resembled David Lynch. Here, as in Memento, Nolan likes to tell his stories out of sequence, and let the auteur of his direction come through. But the most interesting thing about this film is the distribution. The theatrical end credits said "Buena Vista" -- Disney's company, and that is logical, since Touchstone as well as Warner Brothers helped make it. But according to imdb and Nolan's own NewMarketFilms, New Market is the official theatrical distributor. I don't know if Disney has assumed NewMarket, but it is, like Miramax, intended for ambititous indie films. It had made a killing on Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The arthouses are listing this as an indie film, but it is playing in major area theaters and came out #1 opening weekend. And $40Million is a lot for indie film, but maybe no longer.

Columbia (Sony) helped American Zoetrope make and distribute Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which explores the idea of heterosexual marriage and procreation as politically mandatory for the stability of a monarchy and the right political alliances. In a sense, the film mocks heterosexual marriage (with the scenes where Marie (Kristen Dunst) and Louis XVI (Jason Schawartzman) are placed into a canopied bed together. Is it a political argument against all the anti-gay-marriage amendments? It was a hit at Cannes in May 2006 and the indie guides contain it.

The New Line Cinema made Little Children, Todd Feild's pensive and hypnotic followup to In the Bedroom (Miramax). The film establishes its mood with the opening Doppler train horn, that plays during New Line's trademark. The subject matter is disturbing, so much so that New Line is putting this into a platform release in art houses; in the DC area Landmark's E-Street and Bethesda Row had an exclusive run, with some sellouts over the weekend. The film cost $14 million, which is typical of a larger art film. The film is narrated by the man who speaks on PBS Frontline.

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